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A building is just like a perfume. While it has a base component, it is composed out of different elements, carefully mixed together till there is found an equilibrium, with an end result that attracts or repels. Like a perfume you can't create a building from a single ingredient, nor can you be one hundred percent original talking in terms of the used components. The originality of a building stands in the final result after the mixture, in its character and in its unique way of revealing to the viewers that are going inside it or try to find out the message the architects want to send.
This building has its ingredients carefully gathered throughout decades of history, reminding us not only of different currents and well-known architectural structures such as Villa Savoye, designed by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the year 1928, but also of some movements, such as the Cubism or Bauhaus.
This fine mixture of architectural elements that have their origins in Modernism and Deconstructivism, is called Vakko Headquarters and Power Media Centre, designed by the American architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, the founder of the American architecture company REX. Serving as the headquarters for the Turkish fashion house Vakko, the building was completed in 2010 in Istanbul, in record time, holding within its structure offices, an amphitheatre, a conference room, showrooms, a museum and an underground parking lot.
In the following pages I will try to analyse Vakko Headquarters and Power Media Centre throughout a series of comparisons starting with Le Corbusier's work, such as Villa Savoye, his 'five points of new architecture', the Domino system and the theory about the promenade space. I will also look at the French theorist Jacques Derrida and his work about Deconstructivism while making an antithesis with Joshua Prince-Ramus who stated that the Vakko headquarters has Constructivist characteristics.
However, I am not going to talk about the designs of the hotels from 1980, nor about the similarities between the studied building and the Scandinavian architecture.
"Le Corbusier would reuse structures again and again" and so did Joshua Prince-Ramus, from Rex architecture firm, which was the leading architect of the Vakko project (Flora, S, 2007). The project for Vakko is a great example of the reuse not only of the abandoned structure of a hotel project that was put on hold in the year 1980, but also the reuse of a project that was initially designed for Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in Pasadena, California, United States. Thinking of precedents there is a similar case of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, which was one of Prince-Ramus mentors at OMA , an architecture firm based in Rotterdam. Koolhaas developed an idea for a house that was private, near Rotterdam, a project that was shelved and after "that adapted to a much larger building, a concert hall in Porto, Portugal" (Bernstein, F. A., 2010).
Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center, (2010) Villa Savoye, (Discover Paris!, n.d.)
At first glance, when I saw Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center, the first thing that popped into my mind was the stunning resemblance with Le Corbusier's work of art, Villa Savoye, which is located in Poissy, France. Le Corbusier is one of the parents of the Modernist architecture and talking of him we have to talk about the 'five points of a new architecture' which were first published in Vers une architecture (1923), a book "translated into English under the title Towards a New Architecture (1927)". Those five points that Le Corbusier is talking about are: the "freestanding supports (pilotis), the roof garden, the free plan, the ribbon window and the freely composed façade" (Nuttgens, P 1997).
Taking a closer look at the two structures there can be seen that these five characteristics which apply to Villa Savoye are also apply to the Vakko Headquarters, though they are taken to another level. The building designed by REX architects seats on pilotis, those conferring the building a lighter aspect, seeming that it slightly floats above the ground, furthermore creating a circulation beneath it (Kroll, A., 2010). The ribbon windows have been transformed into a glass façade wrapped around the building, which blends the structure with the surrounding area and the sky. The smooth glazed façades along with the flat roof and the cubic shape are characteristics of the Bauhaus movement that started in Germany in 1919 and they also apply to the Turkish fashion house headquarters (Jackie Craven, n.d.).
Initially designed as a U shaped hotel, REX added a new segment to the construction turning it into a rectangle 'donut shape' (chushan.com, 2011). Despite this change, the structure of the building generates a simple and free floor plan that has a marginal circulation which is oriented towards the interior of the structure, while the offices are placed on the exterior side of the building.
Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center, (REX, 2010)
In the Modernist architecture a key term is "promenade architecturale", this designed promenade having the ultimate purpose of realignment with nature (Flora, S. 2010; Manin, S. and Flora, S. 2003). Vakko headquarter integrates with its surrounding, creating an enjoyable promenade. The concrete pavement naturally blends with the grass around the building, while the two stripes of concrete blocks invites you to walk towards the entrance, a similar image being created by the two rows of vegetation planted near Villa Savoye. The promenade space isn't only on the ground floor, but it is also extends on the roof of the structure, creating an enjoyable space for walking and relaxation. Despite the lack of vegetation on the roof, Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center meets all of Corbusier's "five points of a new architecture" (Nuttgens, P, 1997).
Another Modernist characteristic is the Domino system, designed between 1914 and 1916 as a result of the First World War, for the reconstruction of destroyed areas. This system consists of a 'free' plan with a rigid grid system made of concrete frames and slabs, which allows the free movement of exterior and interior walls, taking all the loads on the concrete pillars (Zazo, A. + Álvarez, A., n.d.). As it can be seen in the images bellow, the structural system of the Vakko headquarters is quite similar to a reproduction of a drawing initially made by Le Corbusier in 1914, the building skeleton erecting on a three story building made out of concrete.
Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center (REX, 2010) Domino system (n.a., n.d.)
Going inside Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center everything changes. After walking past the Modernist exterior and arriving into the core of the building, a strange agglutination of shiny planes come down form above the viewer, just like a Cubist painting (an avant-garde art movement pioneered in the early 20th century by the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and the French painter and sculptor Georges Braque) exploded and metamorphosed into a three dimensional object (Wikipedia.org, 2013). This weird disjunction "is a spectacular but complex statement, with hints of constructivism in its canted circulation and boldly exposed steel" (Joshua Prince-Ramus, 2010) which contains the reception, showrooms, meeting spaces, toilets and the auditorium (Douglas Murphy, 2010). The architectural Constructivism was a movement that developed in post-revolutionary Russia at the beginning of the year 1919, with the purpose of showing exposed materials and parts of a building as dynamically as possible (Sima Ingberman, 1994). Those characteristics can also be seen inside the Vakko building, as the metal structure of the dramatically tilted boxes is exposed inside them, while the exterior is covered by mirror glass.
The Guitar Player, Pablo Picasso (n.a. 2013) Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center (Baan, I, 2010)
On one hand, the building has Constructivist characteristics, but on the other hand, looking from another point of view, it can also fit within the Deconstructivist parameters, a movement that began in the late 1980s, characterised by the fragmentation idea, the dislocation and distortion of architectural elements (yostevo.com, n.d.). As the French theorist, "founder of deconstruction" (Lawlor, L. 2011), Jacques Derrida stated, in order to get to the bottom of a text you have to uncover it literary or philosophically (Muller, A.M. 1991). After going behind the simple rectangular exterior, you find the core of the building, the essence, the new structure that is wrapped around by a monotone office building. "Deconstruction necessarily has to operate from inside " (Derrida, J., 1986) and this happens into the Vakko headquarters, because beneath the exterior lies the Deconstructivist interior which is the 'soul' of the building and in order to get there and to the museum, located at the basement, beneath the 'kaleidoscopically structure', you have to take a journey through the whole building.
In architecture, every building sends a message, it makes a statement, and like a perfume, where not every nose can detect all the fragrances hidden behind the fine mixture, nor can everybody perceive the ideas that the architects tried to send, if they don't have a trained eye or mind. To find out the 'mystery' hidden inside a perfume bottle you have to go beneath the glass exterior of the recipient and so you have to do in the case of Vakko Fashion Center & Power Center. The building itself and how it was resolved, by the American architect Joshua Prince-Ramus and his team at REX, makes a statement, without additional or extravagant signifiers, and after passing the simple Modernist exterior, there the essence of the building can be found, within a Deconstructivist interior.
Within the building designed by REX one can find not only numerous similarities between it and Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, which show it's Modernist character, but also proof that the Domino system, firstly introduced by the Swiss architect, applies to the structure of the headquarters. Vakko headquarters successfully integrates into the context where it is placed, without breaking out of the 'promenade architecturale'. The Deconstructivist interior, which is associated with a cubist painting of Pablo Picasso, plays tricks over the viewer's mind, breaking into hundreds the interior spaces that are reflected out of the mirror glass. However, the Decostructivist aspects of the interior are in an antithesis with the Constructivist 'hints' stated by Prince-Ramus.
REX's solution to the needs of Vakko Turkish fashion house, is not only a building, it is a statement, a proof of originality after finding an equilibrium between knowledge gathered throughout years of experience, ingeniousness and theoretical movements, which are still leaving an imprint on the way we think and design.